The Week in Review -- September 3, 1999

The Markets

  8/27 Close 9/3 Close Change %Change
DJIA 11,089.53 11,078.45 -11.08 -0.10
S&P 500 1,348.27 1,357.24 +8.97 +0.67
Nasdaq 2,758.89 2,843.11 +84.22 +3.05

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The Time of Your Life
by Jerry Thomas (TMF Cheeze)

Greetings, Fools.

"We pamper the present moment like a spoiled child, obeying its superficial demands but ignoring its real needs. Its familiar slogans (which include 'Let's do it later,' 'Let's have a snack,' 'Time out!' 'Ouch that hurts,' and 'Not now -- I'm fragile') can tyrannize us into oblivious days of distraction and impulsive chaos. Heeding these slogans, we are, paradoxically, unkind to the present, ignoring the opportunity to project it into the future, forgetting it as soon as it is past. As we would injure children by spoiling them, we injure time by being too attentive to its ephemera."
� from Time and the Art of Living, by Robert Grudin

Consider the poor Market, trapped as he is, always in the present moment, battered and beaten by whatever happens to be the prevailing national anxiety, never able to look beyond the next several trading hours, if that. The Market is a nervous wreck, a twelve-cup-a-day coffee drinker, his eyes permanently crossed courtesy of the CNBC stock ticker, his hand always quivering over his computer mouse, fearful of missing that exact moment when his charts and his heartburn tell him it's time to trade. He is always "skittish." He is constantly "jittery." Comments from the likes of Alan Greenspan can send him into a panic, even though he might have read Thursday's Fool Plate Special by Louis Corrigan (TMF Seymor), which plainly explains why words from the Fed Chairman are nothing to fear.

You can spoil a portfolio as easily as you can spoil a child, by reacting to its every cry and whimper, and the market always has something to cry about. This is the paradox that every long-term investor must face: while we invest not for this moment (but for some comfortable day many years from now), we must still live our lives one day at a time. A matter so important as our financial destiny sometimes commands more attention than is good for it. When our fears are triggered by day-to-day events, they can often move us to act rashly, even when the most proper response to today's little emergency is to do precisely -- nothing.

You can study that lesson with Matt Richey (TMF Verve) in Monday's Rule Maker report. Matt re-examines the infamous "Nifty Fifty" stocks of more than a quarter century ago to reveal that even those who bought those stocks at exactly the wrong moment would have fared well in the long run. That's the lesson of the long-term at its most extreme: give strong companies a sufficient amount of time to right themselves, and stocks will prove to be the among safest investments going. But the price of that safety requires a strength of character and a degree of patience that is uncommon in a world that is more reflexive than deliberate. Sometimes "now" can be a very long and a very anxious time.

Everywhere I turned this week, these themes were being repeated throughout Fooldom. Barbara Eisner Bayer (TMFVenus) treated them in Tuesday's Foolish Four, noting, along with Tony Miller (TMF2Aruba) and Judy Ames (TMFJudy), that Fools can put both extremes of the time line to work for themselves. Yes, begin investing now, says Barbara. But that beginning should not be an impulsive one. Do take the time to assess your own financial situation before committing to any particular investment. Do study the various investment approaches available to you, and adopt the one that makes the best appeal for your long-term prosperity, not to mention your own day-to-day sanity. But don't wait to begin building that comfortable future you imagine for yourself.

In short, use today to educate yourself. You have a three day weekend. Take an hour or two of it and invest it in a close study of this week's Back to School Special. There you will find ample resources for helping those who stand to gain most from Foolishly extreme long term investing: the young. With decades and decades of wealth-building potential ahead of them, time is truly one of the most powerful tools young people have. Sadly, too few of them ever learn how to use it. Tuesday's Fribble is written by Jeffrey Lindenmuth, a Fool who, at the not-so-advanced age of 28, is already enjoying the peace of mind that comes from starting early and staying focused on staying Foolish. His is a terrific example to follow. And, if you have children yourself, take a moment to read Friday's Fribble from Tony (TMF2Aruba), who in addition to being a Fool, is a full-time teacher. Tony offers some words of experience that can help your children make the most of their education.

By the way, all of this might leave you asking the question, should financial education be taught in our schools? Give us your own answer in this week's Fool Poll.

There are a lot of great features this week that I haven't been able to mention here, so let me remind you that you can always find a comprehensive listing of the Fool's features on our Today's Features page. One item worth special mention is Tom Gardner's Interview with Tom Meredith, CFO of Dell Computer (Nasdaq: DELL). Primo stuff, Fool!

Until next week,
Fool on!

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